“How cheap are you?” Scott jocularly asked me when I shared our plan to park at the University of Toronto instead of at the hotel in Toronto.
I suppose I’m glad that after 15 minutes of conversation, a stranger can identify that I am fiscally Jewish.
We had been driving for 8 hours after leaving Niagara Falls around noon. Our destination: Algonquin National Park. A trip that was supposed to take 4 1/2 hours. Oftentimes I find myself irritated when things take longer than planned or expected. As in most cases, rush hour traffic was a contributor to our lengthened trip. But the lesson in this case is one that I’d heard many times before but have yet to fully accept.
“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.”
― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
I’m unclear on the root of my irritation during these circumstances. I’ve never enjoyed being idle and I want to get to the destination so I can start doing what I was going there for. But this trip reinforced the value of the journey. It’s going to take as long as it takes. And you’ll meet whoever you’re going to meet.
It reminds me of my brief studies of buddhism:
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
And that present moment led us to an hour-long conversation with Scott, a bespectacled middle-aged volunteer fireman with a daughter at the University of Toronto. We saw a light on and pulled off the road to the main office for a series of cabins. We stopped in for directions and confirmation that we were, at the very least, getting close to the camp grounds. At this point it was late in the night and we were cruising along Highway 60. The GPS had proved of little help in tracking down the coordinates we had input. Scott informed us that GPS devices are of little help because this area was only recently being plotted by 911 data (apparently how GPS works).
I know all of these things about Scott because he was like most Canadians we met. He was a sharer. He was generous with his time, stories and advice.
Scott affirmed that we were getting close, a mere 30 km between us and the yurt.
Yes. Yurt. Defined as a “portable, bent dwelling structure traditionally used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.” Nomadic is an adjective often used when describing me.
Before we returned to the road, Scott warned us of moose in the road. “They are dumb as a bag of bricks,” he warned. As a volunteer fireman, he would be the one to come scrape us off the lonesome road should we collide with a moose. “Enjoy your trip and I hope I don’t see you later tonight.”
Now paranoid at the prospect of meeting our demise at the hooves of Bullwinkle’s relatives, we slowed to 70 km/h. It was at this point that I shut down. The prospect of staying in the middle of nowhere, a land not find-able by GPS, a land where bears and moose roam, a land where I would be completely disconnected, scared me.
And how did I react, you ask? Not well. I shut down. Previously garrulous, I was now mute. It was late. My friends knew something was wrong and opted to not poke this bear.
We found the entrance to the campgrounds which included a sign noting that a bear had been seen on the premises and to secure your food appropriately. At this point, I tucked my mouth into my fleece like a Muppet that purses its lips. We got to our reserved space and spotted our home for the next two nights.
I was silent for the remainder of the evening. My friends sheepishly wished me goodnight after we were cleaned up and were ready for bed. There would be one more time on this trip in the wilderness where I was uncontrollably difficult. I knew I was being a downer, but I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t flip the switch to be in the moment and enjoy whatever happened. I was with two good friends and couldn’t get past the newness of being off the grid.
It is said you learn a lot about someone when they are out of their comfort zone. I can’t say I’m completely proud of what I learned about myself. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and to grow. So, I’ll view this as insight toward how I could react to a new situation and hopefully in the future respond differently.
After a night’s sleep, I was closer to my normal self in the morning. We went on a hike recommended by Scott. It had sweeping vistas of land untouched by developers. Just trees and water and nature and bugs that loved me.
At the end of our hike, we stopped into the convenience store/cabin to refill our water bottles and pick up some bread for the next day’s lunches.
They were out of bread. When asked if they’d have more tomorrow, they replied, “We won’t get any more until next Tuesday.”
I began to weep.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ernest Hemingway